- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Some of the honorables in Congress are shocked — shocked — that George W. Bush would nominate a military man to head the Central Intelligence Agency. To quote Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, Gen. Michael Hayden’s military background would be a “major problem.”

How’s that again? Wasn’t Stansfield Turner, an admiral, head of the CIA back in the Carter administration? Indeed, at last count, 13 of the 19 directors of the agency served in the military at some time before their appointment. In the agency’s early days, it was almost assumed a military man would head it.

This four-star, Michael Hayden, comes out of the Air Force, where he developed an interest in intelligence work, and went on to head the National Security Agency; he hasn’t worked at the Pentagon since 1999. It was Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who noted that by now Gen. Hayden is more of a spook-in-chief than a military man. But whatever his assignment, he’s done a heckuva job at it.

That doesn’t mean the usual rock-chunkers in Congress won’t do everything they can to derail Gen. Hayden’s nomination. His greatest accomplishment may have been to oversee development of a sophisticated computerized databank designed to spot and monitor international calls from al Qaeda suspects overseas to contacts in this country. Naturally he’s been bitterly criticized for it, along with his commander in chief.

By authorizing such a program, it’s said, George W. Bush has been undermining our liberties rather than protecting them against terrorists who care nothing about our laws except how to take advantage of them. Apparently we are supposed to sit back and let them do just that.

It’s the familiar old Constitution-as-suicide-pact theory of law, which has been used against every administration serious about holding the country together since Abraham Lincoln’s.

The very existence of Gen. Hayden’s computerized operation was a closely guarded secret till the New York Times told the world about it. I can’t think of a greater disservice to the national defense on a newspaper’s part since Col. McCormick’s old Chicago Tribune, in its perfervid opposition to another war, revealed that American intelligence had broken the Japanese naval code. Looking back, it seems unfair that the Tribune, unlike the New York Times, didn’t win a Pulitzer.

In one of the more widespread misnomers of our time, this operation has been dubbed a “domestic spying” program — though it is designed to track only international calls to and from the United States. It’s also been called illegal, unconstitutional and generally un-American by its critics, none of them very persuasive.

But it was Congress itself, by joint resolution, that empowered the president of the United States “to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States” immediately after September 11, 2001. And the U.S. Constitution is quite explicit about who exercises such powers in the federal government: “The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States.” (It’s hard to beat the Founders when it comes to writing a simple declarative sentence.)

This still closely guarded system of tracking calls from terrorists now is said, ominously, to authorize “warrantless searches,” which is technically accurate. Just as our troops in Iraq conduct warrantless searches when searching for intelligence about the enemy, and should.

The program Gen. Hayden oversaw is just as important, and useful, in guarding the home front. At least one terrorist plot, to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, was thwarted by intelligence derived from the NSA’s program, or that’s what the New York Times reported when it blew the whistle on this operation.

Conclusion: Instead of being lambasted for his role in developing this program, Gen. Hayden deserves another medal.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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